By Cuyler Meade
At Mountain Pointe, an undefeated regular season isn’t enough. Neither is a trip to the Division I semifinals.
For coach Norris Vaughan and the Pride, the only thing left to accomplish is winning it all. Again.
“Last few years you look at the top teams, Mountain Pointe’s the winningest team in the state over the last four years,” Vaughan told Sports360az.com. “And the last seven years we’ve been in the semifinals at least 6 times. The last four years we’ve been in the semis all four years and the finals twice, winning one in 2013, and going second in 2012. So we’re 48-6. We’ve won more games and lost less games than anyone in the state in Division I.”
It’s not going to be an easy road to the Promised Land for the Pride, but it wasn’t easy making it as far as they did last year either.
“Last year we had a young team,” Vaughan said. “Only four returning starters from the previous year. This year, we’ve got about 13, so we’re going to have to be pretty good. But we lost our quarterback, we lost our top tailback, who led the state in rushing, and we lost a couple of linebackers.”
As spring football begins, Mountain Pointe will key in on some of its strengths to replace what it lost.
Defense: Mountain Pointe’s defense is stacked, and nowhere more thoroughly than at defensive back, where two-way star Isaiah Pola-Mao returns to wreak havoc on opposing wideouts.
“He’s got eight Division I offers and he’ll probably add seven or eight more I’d assume,” Vaughan said. “Good student, been offered by UA, ASU, Washington, Oregon State, Nebraska, a whole bunch. I’m pretty sure UCLA, USC, Oregon. Very good player, 6-4, 190-plus. He ran a 4.5 40 at the LA combine. He’s very fast, he’s tall. He’s running track now, and long-jumping almost 21 feet, ran like an 11.4 400 meters the other day, and this is his first year running track.”
Isaiah had four picks and nearly 100 tackles as a junior. He also played wide receiver, catching 435 yards of receptions with five touchdowns.
But then, in the center of the defense, there’s the other Pola-Mao on the roster: Isaiah’s brother Matthew.
“His brother started for us this year as a freshman as a nose tackle,” Vaughan said. “He’s currently 6-2, 300, benches 300 pounds, also has an offer from Oregon State as a freshman. Two totally different body types, but another great kid, and he’s going to be a great player.”
Occupying the other side of the field from the elder Pola-Mao will be Antwaun Woodberry.
“He’s a cornerback that’s going to be a Division I player,” Vaughan said. “Also at least a 4.4 40. Very good player, who might play some offense but is primarily defense.”
Another two-way player, Rashie Hodge, looks to improve on a great 2015.
“Outside linebacker who we’ll also play at running back,” Vaughan said. “6-foot, 190 pounds, runs a 4.6. All-State-type player. Great player, all-region last year, first team on defense.
“I’ve got a kid named Khalif Ravenell, he’s a sophomore, about 6-1, 225, and he’s got a chance to be a Division-I player.”
All in all, Vaughan is thrilled about his defensive returners.
“Also two defensive linemen, one defensive end and an outside linebacker returning,” Vaughan said. “We have eight returners on defense. Last year we had a young defense but we also had a lot of injuries on defense.”
Quarterback: It’s tough replacing a guy like Jack Smith, the 63-percent, 15/4 touchdown/interception, 2005-yard passer from last season who flipped his commitment from NAU to ASU in February to play safety with the Devils.
But that’s what Vaughan is tasked with doing, and he’s confident in the young man he’s got coming up next, Noah Grover.
“He’ll be a first-year starter as a senior,” Vaughan said. “He’s got some division II offers already. Got a 4.0-plus GPA. Very good passer. So I think our quarterback situation will be in good hands.”
Offensive line: There’s nothing better than consistency on the O-line, and Vaughan’s got it this year.
“I’ve got a lineman who was just named the most valuable player at the Dallas Cowboys camp,” Vaughan said. “Mason Honne, another sophomore. All these guys started this year, now. We had five sophomores, and a freshman start this year. Mason is about 6-1-and-a-half, 260. He played center and tackle. Very good.
“We also return another lineman, Rudy Rauls. Offensive guard, 6-foot, about 260 pounds, runs about a 4.9.”
Running back: Here’s another key position where Vaughan has to replace a star. Division I rushing leader Macarius Blount is off to Phoenix College, and his 1783 rushing yards won’t be easy to come by.
“We’ve got two tailbacks, both with great speed,” Vaughan said. “Anthony Stephens and a kid named Gary Bragg. Bragg got about 1500 yards on the JV team. Either one of those guys could be the starter, and they’ll get some relief work from Rashie Hodge.”